Gay Couple Claims Bias by Small Wyoming Town

(CN) – A gay couple sued a Wyoming town, its mayor and town council on discrimination claims over the town’s actions regarding the couple’s operation of a bar and restaurant in the predominantly Mormon community.

Filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the state of Wyoming, the complaint names as defendants the city of Thayne, Mayor DeLand Lainhart, and City Council members Lorell Woolley, Joe Heward, Lee Schwab and Steve Wicks. The suit claims the defendants’ actions violate the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The couple, Marc and Rusty Andrus, bought Rustlers Restaurant and Saloon in 2015 and have spent thousands of dollars on renovations. But when the couple says when they applied for a liquor license, the Thayne town council began systematically discriminating against the gay couple, at one point arbitrarily inflating the couple’s liquor license fee from $1,500 to $10,500. Other restaurants in Thayne not owned by LGBT people do not receive the same kind of treatment, the couple says.

Thayne, population 366, is about an hour east of Idaho Falls and 30 minutes south of Jackson, Wyoming, and is a deeply Mormon community in the Star Valley. According to the Church of Latter Day Saints, church members settled the Star Valley area in 1877. The following year, church president Brigham Young dedicated the spot as a gathering place for members.

The Andruses say they continually received pushback from the town council over their liquor license application, and it wasn’t until one of the leaders of the local Mormon church – who is not a city official – said the couple could have a liquor license that the town council gave in, according to the lawsuit.

The local Mormon church’s influence over the Thayne town council is why the couple has been treated differently from other non-LGBT-owned restaurants, the lawsuit says, and the town council’s actions serve only to advance the interests of the Mormon church and religion.

Town council members also implied the Rustlers restaurant was in some way responsible for the town’s drunken driving problems and town council members asked during the couple’s licensing process what they were going to do about the problem — even though the restaurant did not have a liquor license at the time, the couple says.

The city of Thayne also has failed to put the Rustlers Restaurant on the town’s website, while straight-owned restaurants are featured on www.thayne-wy.com.

And the town council required the couple to spend thousands of dollars on a tall wooden fence between their restaurant and the neighboring bar, even though town regulations did not require it. The purpose of the fence was so that others could not see who was in the Rustlers parking lot, the suit says.

After the couple received its liquor license, Mayor Lainhart came into the restaurant and threatened to revoke the license if the restaurant’s grill was not turned on even though no such law exists, the lawsuit says. Lainhart also told the couple they could not have a neon sign outside their business, even though the neighboring bars do and city ordinances allow neon signs, the couple says.

During a hearing for the liquor license, members of the audience made “hostile gay slurs,” the suit says.

The couple seeks relief from further discrimination and punitive damages.

Lubing Law Group of Jackson represents the plaintiffs. The attorneys declined to comment on the case. Members of the town council also declined to comment.

 

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